April 9, 2015
The morning is brisk. Really brisk. There’s a light covering of frost on the tent and, where the dry-bags have been laying, a film of damp has formed on the floor. The low-lying clouds have saved us the view of Trollstigen, but we definitely feel socked-in and rain seems a certainty at some point along today’s journey. The impending weather necessitates a hearty breakfast to keep us warm and is happily supplied by the young folks working the café at Camping Trollstigen. An endless cup of coffee, delicious food and a reasonable bill marks the end of an excellent stay at the base of the Trolls Ladder.
We pack the bikes as quickly as our chilly fingers will allow and say goodbye to the epic face of the road which led us here. We’re not moving for long, though; the cows own this road, and greener pastures lay just up the lane. A traffic jam of legs and udders lead us slowly to the north. Eventually, they realise we’re not one of the herd and free us onto an open and quiet road.
It would be almost impossible to ride unexcitedly through this part of Norway. With its epic landscapes, frequent wildlife and quiet isolation there’s a real magic here. But today we have good reason to be extra-excited; our route will take us along the Atlantic Road and over its crowd-pleasing jewel, the Storseisundet Bridge. For now, the road leads us to the Rauma River before following its last kilometres toward its meeting with Romsdalfjord and the town of Åndalsnes.
The blank, white sky casts a flat canvas against the stone that rises upwards near Isfjorden – a surprisingly subtle end to the fjord when compared with the rocks to our south – but grand nonetheless. At Herjestranda we catch our first ferry of the day across a narrow arm of the Langfjorden. A short journey, it’s just long enough for us to meet a fellow rider who’s heading to the Atlantic Road in pursuit of a dream that’s been growing for many years. As the ferry docks, he and his wife wave as they disappear into the rain while we stop to grab a warm drink and wait-out the beginnings of the growing storm.
Rain can come as quickly as it goes in Norway – or so it seems. The deluge is short and violent but leaves just as we reach the bottoms of our mugs. Back on the bikes, we carve our way north towards our destination for the night, Skjerneset Camping on the far northeastern coast of Ekkilsøya and the road that leads to it. Passing Moen, we meet our first stretch of road in Norway that has an actual toll booth – though motorcycles are exempt from the charge. Heading into the wrong lane, the lovely lady waves me along with a wide grin. I need to stop panicking at toll stations!
The bridges of the Atlantic Road connect a partially inhabited archipelago creating a route through the region that would have otherwise been impossible without tunnelling or short island hoppers. While the focus for many (us included) is the Storseisundet Bridge, the real jewel here is the view. The road cuts it’s tarmac across the Norwegian Sea, sometimes in an arc above the water and at other times like a rock skimming the surface. Even with today’s threatening skies the face of the water is relatively calm, though, at times, the water can come crashing over the surface with gale-force winds making the route treacherous for travellers in cars and buses, let alone motorcycles.
The sensation of skipping from rock to rock is wonderful. In fact, as we see the bridge appear in the distance, there’s hope that the days riding will never end. Over a low-lying bridge and past a small shop just a few hundred meters from the awkwardly graceful back of the Storseisundet, we see the riders we’d met on the ferry earlier. Waving as we pass, we make our way up a ribbon of tarmac that gives the illusion of an incomplete road; one which will drop us unceremoniously into the waters of the Norwegian Sea below. The initial grade is quite steep, but as we breach the crest the illusion is lost and, in exchange, we’re given a view of the Atlantic Road as it winds north. Beautiful.
On Storseisundet’s far side, we stop for a moment to take in the view of a raging sky and unsettled ocean. The landscape here is remarkable. It’s in this state of thinking about everything and nothing that we realise how cold our hands are. Suddenly, a nice cup of coffee at a gift shop seems very appealing. We re-cross the bridge from the other direction and see our friends in the parking lot looking quite chilly.
“I’ve lost the bolt that attaches my camera! I want to film the bridge, but I don’t think I can.”
He’s flustered but still smiling. I check to see if we’re carrying a similar size but come up empty.
“Not to worry, I’ll tape it up for now and get something when we get home. Hopefully, it works.”
We’re certain it will. We talk for a while with hot coffee in hand; she’s a nurse, he’s a teacher. They’re so lovely it’s hard to put into words – their enthusiasm for this kind of travel captures the essence of adventure without all the machismo and fluff. They’re exploring a world that’s unknown to them but has inextricably drawn them here – to this place, at this time. It’s honest, and I love that.
After a liberal application of duct-tape to both bike and camera, we say our goodbyes and watch them disappear to the south. Our home for the night lays beyond Storseisundet once again, winding our way east before lurching north towards Ekkilsøya, an island just west of Kristiansund. At its north-eastern tip is Skjerneset Bryggecamping, a working boat-house and fishing harbour since it was built by Ragnvald Otterlei in 1910. His descendants still own and operate the home today, having built cabins and a campground along the water with a museum inside the main building. As we arrive, the skies release a relentless torrent and the young woman at the counter offers us a room inside for the cost of a site, an offer we gratefully accept.
The room is much like the grounds; slightly industrial, slightly unfinished and completely charming. It feels like a place we might happen upon by accident and not leave for a long while. There’s work to be done – on the land, in the house and on the boats and, in our imagining, staying here to help in exchange for room and board would make sense. It’s a place that would be written about by Hemingway. The sky breaks for a moment, and we hike our gear upstairs before parking the bikes along a stone wall which offers some protection from the winds and water. From the deck beside the harbour, we watch the boats arrive to unload their days catch filling the salty air with the smell of fish. There’s a grit that sticks to our hands here and forms a strange yearning for hard work.
As blue begins to peek through the clouds, we wish, for a moment, that we’d set up the tent but the howling winds and driving rain of late-evening push those dreams quickly from our minds. A tin of reindeer meatballs and veggies over the small stove and we’re ready to sleep. We unroll our sleeping bags onto the narrow bunks, and quickly leave the day behind, listening to the sounds of the weather beating against the walls.
The next morning we pack at a leisurely pace even with a longer day ahead. While the rain has stopped, it’s obvious this is a temporary break, and a warm breakfast is waiting for us on the main floor. Slowly the bikes begin to resemble their everyday selves, and even then we procrastinate by chatting with the tall, statuesque woman who’s settled here for the moment while formulating a next plan. A skinny, soil-soaked man hovers while we talk hoping, for a moment, to have the conversation return in his direction; it’s obvious he’s chosen her, but she seems a little less eager with the idea. Eventually, he leaves, and the conversation quickly turns to… spiders. Australian spiders to be exact.
“You like Australia? I think it’s okay. But the spiders…” She gives a shudder before we all head back to the bikes. The reaction reminds us of Rineke at REV’IT! back in the Netherlands. As we pull away from this wonderfully unique place, she gives us a wave and heads back into the office.
The journey to Storsand Gård Camping is about four and a half hours which translates to about six-to-seven hours travelling and there’s one thing that’s occupying our minds: it’s cold. Really cold. For now, the weather holds, and once again we skip over a series of bridges that deliver us to larger and larger islands, passing through gorgeously barren landscapes leading us towards Kristiansund. Here, we head south to the isle of Frei before heading east on the isle of Bergsøya where the trees once again reappear in force.
Just before we make the ferry in Kanestraum, the skies begin to open once again releasing a steady rain that stays with us for the remainder of the day. The land here is lush with vibrant, green pastures speckled with white sheep laying in stark contrast to the evergreens and rock that form the native landscape. We glide along the water for the length of the Vinjefjorden where, at times, the opposite shore of this narrow inlet is completely obscured by clouds and rain. Cutting inland briefly, we pass south of Trondheim before arriving at Storsand Gård’s quiet gate.
It looks closed.
The woman at the check-in counter is friendly enough and quickly reveals the mystery of the sites emptiness.
“This is our last weekend before the end of the season. You just made it!”
It’s a thought that we’d not had; the temperatures are dropping and, as we head north toward the Arctic, their seasons (even in late August) are coming to a close. Hmm. The fields are soaked with rain, and we’re offered a basic cabin which, we have to say, is a fantastic way to “Camp” in Norway. We pull the bikes onto the water-logged grass by our home for the night and unpack before heading into Vikhammer for groceries at the local REMA 1000. After another simple home-cooked meal we settle in for the evening, both of us feeling a little secluded in the most wonderful way. End of season is a fantastic time to be travelling through this region.
The next morning we pack the bikes in the morning chill and breathe in the crisp air. I’m not sure if it’s the fantastic sleep we’ve had or the anticipation of getting past the Arctic Circle, but we’re both feeling excited to get going. We skip breakfast and plan to grab a bite on the way – perhaps in Stjordal (too soon) or possibly Steinkjer. Either way, we simply want to get on the road.
It’s one of those days where everything just feels right on the bikes; the path flows effortlessly and every corner links together with the familiarity of an old friend. There’s a constant threat of rain but, except for the last hour or so, it doesn’t arrive. While there are moments of riding along the water it is, for the most part, a day spent traveling inland, and the scenery reminds us very much of the roads which take us through the Rockies back home. Trees pass us in a blur following an unnatural ribbon of tarmac which appears to flow endlessly into the distance, broken only for a moment by a solitary reindeer slipping from the road into the woods. It’s wonderful.
Just past Gartland, we arrive at Harran Camping where no-one’s home. No-one. There’s only a phone number on the office door, and a quick call brings the owner by after a short wait. She lets us know we’re free to set up our tent anywhere we’d like, though a quick look around reveals the entire pitch to be flooded. We opt for a small cabin set at the intersection of three gravel roads – an island in the campgrounds. The smallest hut yet, we settle in for the night as the weather closes in.
In the morning we discover that two young men who arrived late set up camp in the dark and pitched their tent in what is now a formidable lake. Excellent for defence, terrible for comfort! Fortunately (for them), we find the pair fast asleep in the camp kitchen, warm and dry. We pack out bags and quietly make our way back to the main road, take a quick right turn and head directly north towards Nordland and our camp at Mosjøen.
The day’s route takes us entirely inland, though, in Norway, we’re always close to water in one form or another. The majestic peaks and deep valleys that have been home to us for the past weeks are now replaced by the more subtle sensation of rising with their apex before gently descending – only partially – before beginning another ascent. The forests are still dense though the trees are getting shorter and then there’s the light; the golden blanket of the South is, today, replaced by shards of white that pierce the clouds and hurt the eyes.
A growing bank of dark clouds to our east spares our vision and the threat of rain never materializes except for a brief moment of drizzle just before reaching the half-way mark. We pass under the gate that announces our arrival into Nordland and its seventies-album-cover typeface brings a smile to our faces. The railway line has tracked the day’s route like an uninvited guest but has remained silent, much like the roads. We’ve been alone almost the entire day save for a couple of motorcyclists returning from the north.
Soon, we arrive at Mosjøen Camping, our home for the night. Once again we find no-one home and the camping fields completely flooded. With the park almost empty, we take a grass pitch by a concrete slab and make a cup of tea. The crisp air feels wonderful and, in no time, a young man opens the doors to the main building. While much of the facility is closed for the season, the bowling alley is not and the possibility of an evening round is immediately penciled into the calendar!
Mosjøen’s town center is a short walk away and well worth the effort. A maze of residential streets bring us a truly charming waterfront with traditionally colourful homes and the return of majestic backdrops in the form of the Vefsnfjord. While the majority of the town does feel industrial, this spot is beautiful and, after taking our time exploring the side streets, we find a comfortable spot for dinner and enjoy passersby through the large windows. Feeling quite sated with the day, an empty glass of wine and fading light precedes a short walk back to our tent. Dreams of bowling fade on the journey home and are replaced for an eagerness to wake early and make our way to the Arctic Circle. Sleep comes quickly.
The road to Røkland is simply beautiful, fulfilling a personal dream to ride through Arctic tundra. Better yet, the sky is a bright blue with the contrails of long-passed aeroplanes shipping people en-masse to various points of the planet. The dense forests speckled with large slabs of rock remind us of the Laurentian Plateau, but the foliage quickly begins to diminish in both height and coverage.
Again the slight pressure in our hips hints at a steady, day-long climb toward the treeless peaks of distant mountains and soon the lakes of Mo i Rana yield to the most wonderfully barren landscape we’ve seen. Rock and a thin veil of greens and browns cover the land, leading effortlessly to almost wispy peaks. The sheep have disappeared and are now replaced by deliberately crafted cairns patterned across the tundra, echoes left by travellers to remind the next that they’re neither first nor last – and, perhaps, to tell us that we’re never really alone.
And we’re not. After drifting along the plains almost unaware of time, we see a sign:
Welcome to the Arctic Circle
This latest marathon leg, from the Sahara to the Arctic Circle, is realized. It’s a long moment that’s taken at the entrance to the Polarsirkel Senteret, touching the sign to be certain it’s real. We deposit a sticker on the post, perhaps as proof to us and a reminder to others – much like the cairns. We take more moments to wander along the barren ground, weaving our way between the carefully stacked stones and breath in the air. We’re here.
After what seems like a long exhalation, we trot the bikes to the Polarsirkel Senteret where a few other folks are busy milling about with similarly content smiles. We grab a coffee and a bite before taking another long moment on the tundra. One area has hundreds of cairns stacked making it almost impossible to meander through them without knocking one – yet we don’t. We’re careful with every step and eventually find a place to sit and stare. This is a fiercely beautiful part of the world.
It feels like hours pass before realising it’s time to make our way towards Røkland and our home for the night. With a last gaze we make our way to the bikes, talking briefly with a stranger and then continuing north. Deep down I hope the tundra will continue endlessly but, eventually, trees begin to re-emerge – though they’re smaller than usual. Kilometer by kilometer they grow in height until we’re once again in the familiarly undulating landscape of a river valley and, as we make a right turn into Nordnes Camping, we somehow feel right at home.